Dr Sara Maher1
1Monash University, Clayton, Australia
This paper examines how South Sudanese Australian mothers in Victoria were impacted by the criminalization of their sons in the lead-up to the2018 Victorian State Election. Insight is provided by interviews with 17 mothers of boys and young men from the community conducted at the peak of this moral panic. Our analysis indicates that the incessant media coverage of ‘Apex’ and ‘African gangs’, together with racially charged political rhetoric and what was perceived to be an overzealous policing response, generated significant anxieties amongst participants about the safety of their children and their acceptance in Australian society. In response to these issues, mothers have developed strategies to protect their children that are counter-intuitive to their cultural beliefs and parenting practices.
Additionally, mothers believed their parenting and cultural practices have been misunderstood and misrepresented by government and non-government agencies. This was associated with interventions that were seen to exacerbate family breakdown and therefore contribute to youth criminality and anti-social behaviour, and the loss of cultural and family connection. From this analysis, we conclude that the criminalization of young South Sudanese Australians has put mothers under exceptional stress and undermined this community’s sense of inclusion and belonging in Australian society.
Dr Maher’s research is built on a previous career in the refugee settlement sector in Melbourne. Her research interests include post-settlement for former refugee women, the gendered-impacts of state crime during war, the oral histories of forced migrations, transnationality and diasporas, and the criminalisation of migrant youth.